Random Thoughts From The 'Phere (Lotusphere That Is)

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Activity Explorer, the new Workplace component, was probably the big news at Lotusphere 2005.

This activity-oriented interface aims to bring together access to all team work and tasks on one screen, weaving presence-awareness and existing applications together. While IBM demonstrated it last November, it was clearly time to re-announce it Monday in Orlando (or the mythical kingdom of Lake Buena Vista if you prefer Disney's alternative universe.)

IBM Researcher Werner Geyer says there are two key concepts: Live shared objects and activities. Implementing the first, a user could create a document and allow it to be shared by members of a workgroup. That document then becomes "presence-enabled" team members can see who's working on it in real time. The screen includes a preview page of the document or task at hand, a buddy-list like window, as well as a threaded history of the active task.

"Today we collaborate in a tool-centric way [with] IM, e-mail, shared workspaces, document repositoriesthe problem is when you do a single activity, say closing a sale, you use all these tools but create all sorts of disconnected artifacts. We are trying to integrate the tools horizontally," Geyer said Tuesday.

The first deliverable version will be in Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5, due by the end of of this quarter. Activity Explorer will then be added to the SMB or Express version of Workplace in the second quarter, IBMers said.

One drawback: With the first release, users must deal with both an e-mail and an activity inbox. There are plans to meld those over time, Geyer said.

While partners lauded the software's apparent ability to make connections between people and tasks, they also said it would require some reconsideration of how they work.

"This is role-based not ad-hoc [collaboration] and people will have to start thinking about collaboration differently," said David Via, vice president of business development at The Wolcott Group, a Fairlawn, Ohio Notes partner.

As we all know, old habits die hard. If this isn't made simple as hell, folks aren't going to bite.

IBM researchers said Activity Explorer-like stuff will continue to evolve, into "Unified Activity Management" which will attempt to converge both formal workflow-driven tasks and more informal spontaneous collaboration. Good luck with that.

Here's what's right about IBM: Actual useful stuff. Like the Tamnun Juru Desktop search. Coming out of IBM's Haifa lab, this technology indexes and searches files on hard drives, including contents of Notes inboxes. Google Desktop thus far only indexes and searches Outlook mailboxes.

Tamnun, meaning Octopus in Hebrew, puts a browser interface atop the Juru search component that is already used in IBM's WebSphere Portal and Workplace. There are no immediate plans to productize this, according to Michael Herscovici, Lotus Software Development Manager of Search Technologies at IBM's Haifa Labs. But, with IBM claiming some 120 million Notes users, they might want to think about it.

Here's what's wrong about IBM: This title: Senior Vice President,
Enterprise On Demand Transformation and Information Technology. When someone's job title can't fit legibly on a business card, it's time to cut the crap.


Partners were thrilled with the surprise appearance by Notes guru Ray Ozzie. He took center stage after an eight-year absence to give kudus to assembled business partners and customers that have taken Notes to more than 100 million seats.

But opinions were mixed as to the net result.

Gartner analyst Maureen Caplan Grey said the procession of current and former execs, including current GM Ambuj Goyal to past Lotus CEO Michael Zisman shows continuity and stability. Wolcott's Via said that Goyal et al. did a good job finally showing that the Notes franchise will survive. "Notes isn't dead. It's embedded in the workplace client," he noted.

Others disagreed. Comparing the hoopla greeting Ozzie to the more staid reaction to current luminaries, one long-time partner said the whole thing seemed to show that Notes' glory days are over.

Interestingly the video promoting Notes on its 20+ birthday featured the usual suspects--Jim Manzi, John Landry, (although no money shot of his Spiderman act), and Jeff Papows. Some wondered whether Papows, after the infamous Wall Street Journal expose would be visible. He was. At least on tape.

There were more Microsofties in attendance than in the past. Eighteen, at least officially. But there were probably more IBMers than ever too. Word has it 600 out of the 5,000 attendees wear Big Blue. But, before any of the Redmond folk get snarky about the decline of Lotusphere attendance since its Spiderman heyday, I need only point out that there is NO Microsoft Exchange Conference at all any more.


Almost forgot! This year's show had the best speaker evah in John Cleese of Monty Python-Fawlty Towers-Fish Called Wanda Fame. The guy is worth whatever amount he got.

Not only did he freely admit he knows less about technology than anyone in the room, but less than anyone that anyone in that room knew. Get it? He's NOT INTO IT. How refreshing.

He also pointed out that the perfectly perfect anagram for Lotusphere (held at DisneyWorld) is Here's Pluto. I could practically hear Sybil hissing in the background.


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